The Humanities Institute at The University of Texas at Austin was established in 2001 under the directorship of Evan Carton, who served as Founding Director for eight years. Pauline Turner Strong became Associate Director in 2006, succeeding Carton as Director in September 2009. The Humanities Institute is a unit of the College of Liberal Arts, and has also received substantial support from the Office of the Provost, the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, and a variety of private donors and local and national foundations.
The Institute's founding objective, consistent with that of humanities centers at other universities, was to facilitate cross-disciplinary inquiry, collegiality, scholarly collaboration, and innovation. This objective prompted the establishment of the Humanities Institute Faculty Fellows Seminar, in which selected Faculty Fellows meet weekly to explore multi-disciplinary aspects of and approaches to a broad annual topic or theme. The Seminar is complemented by the Distinguished Visiting Lecturers Series, in which distinguished scholars from other universities are invited to campus to deliver a public lecture on the annual theme, and to lead one of the faculty seminars.
From its inaugural year, however, with the development of the Texas Teachers as Scholars program and the award of a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation grant to launch it, the Humanities Institute began to envision and implement a more expansive and democratic mission: to design and promote public humanities and community partnership programs that actively involve diverse public constituencies and put scholars as citizens and citizens as scholars into mutually rewarding dialogue. Through its array of innovative educational programs, research support initiatives, cultural events, and public forums-often developed in partnership with community, government, and arts organizations-the Institute currently makes a substantial contribution to the cultural and intellectual life of central Texas. It also stands among the leaders of the national trend to bring civic and intellectual engagement with local communities from the margins to the center of the university's mission.
In 2008 the Humanities Institute extended its reach to undergraduates by assuming leadership of the Difficult Dialogues program, funded by the Ford Foundation. This program offers a semi-annual public dialogue on a controversial issue as well as undergraduate courses and faculty development workshops.